Dr. Irving A. Fradkin, Founder of Scholarship America: 1921-2016
Dr. Irving A. Fradkin, the visionary leader responsible for founding the nation’s largest nonprofit scholarship organization, was born in Chelsea, MA in 1921. He was the youngest of seven children of the late Abraham and Eva Fradkin, who emigrated from Russia and Poland. It was Fradkin’s goal to follow in his father’s footsteps as a baker, and by age 10 he was working in his father’s bakery after school and on weekends. An accident during a neighborhood football game changed Fradkin’s life forever and he went on to become an optometrist with a practice in Fall River, Massachusetts.
Fradkin loved his job and his patients, and he liked to know everything about them – especially the young people. He would ask them, “What are your dreams?” He lamented that too many answered that they merely hoped to finish high school and get a job; not many felt that a college education was within reach. Fradkin felt this was a waste of the best assets in the community, and decided to run for school board in 1957 on a platform of “establishing a Dollars for Scholars community scholarship program.” Although he lost the election, he didn’t give up on Fall River’s students – and by spring of 1958, had raised nearly $5,000, enough to give 4‐year renewable scholarships to 24 graduating seniors.
Today, Fradkin’s former school board platform and initial Fall River Dollars for Scholars chapter has grown to a nationwide network of chapters and is part of Scholarship America, the nation’s largest scholarship and education assistance organization. Since its origins 60 years ago, Scholarship America has awarded $3.9 billion to 2.4 million students. Headquartered in Minneapolis, MN, the organization now employs 160 individuals across the country.
Fradkin’s fervent love of country, freedom and democracy motivated him to continue to dream of building a better America through education, and he never stopped moving toward this goal. He believed that education is the key to achieving the American Dream. He often said, “The most valuable resource this country has is not gold or oil, but the minds of young people.”
When Fradkin passed away in November, 2016, he was 95 years old and still serving as an active member of Scholarship America’s Honor Roll Trustees.